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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

When First U.S. Reporter Reached Nagasaki--and His Reports Suppressed

More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my books The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Atomic Cover-up  and Hiroshima in America, and in my new award-winning film.

Nagasaki, which lost over 80,000 civilians (and only a few military personnel) to a new weapon 76 years ago, has always been The Forgotten A-Bomb City. And Nagasaki was "forgotten" from the very start, thanks to a blatant act of press censorship.

One of the great mysteries of the Nuclear Age was solved just a decade ago: What was in the censored, and then lost to the ages, newspaper articles filed by the first reporter to reach Nagasaki following the atomic attack on that city on Aug. 9, 1945.

The reporter was George Weller, the distinguished correspondent for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. His startling dispatches from Nagasaki, which could have affected public opinion on the future of the bomb, never emerged from General Douglas MacArthur's censorship office in Tokyo. I wrote about this cover-up in the book Atomic Cover-up, along the suppression for decades of film footage shot in the two atomic cities by the U.S. military.

Carbon copies of the stories were found in 2003 when his son discovered them after the reporter's death. Four of them were published in 2005 for the first time by the Tokyo daily Mainichi Shimbun, which purchased them from the son, Anthony Weller. I was first to report on this in the United States.

The articles published in Japan (and later included in a book assembled by Anthony Weller, First Into Nagasaki) revealed a remarkable and wrenching turn in Weller's view of the aftermath of the bombing, which anticipates the profound unease in our nuclear experience ever since. "It was remarkable to see that shifting perspective," Anthony Weller told me.

An early article that George Weller filed, on Sept. 8, 1945 -- two days after he reached the city, before any other journalist -- hailed the "effectiveness of the bomb as a military device," as his son describes it, and made no mention of the bomb's special, radiation-producing properties.

But later that day, after visiting two hospitals and shaken by what he saw, he described a mysterious "Disease X" that was killing people who had seemed to survive the bombing in relatively good shape. A month after the atomic inferno, they were passing away pitifully, some with legs and arms "speckled with tiny red spots in patches."

The following day he again described the atomic bomb's "peculiar disease" and reported that the leading local X-ray specialist was convinced that "these people are simply suffering" from the bomb's unknown radiation effects.

Anthony Weller, a novelist, told me that it was one of great disappointments of his father's life that these stories, "a real coup," were killed by MacArthur who, George Weller felt, "wanted all the credit for winning the war, not some scientists back in New Mexico."

Others have suggested that the real reason for the censorship was the United States did not want the world to learn about the morally troubling radiation effects for two reasons: It aimed to avoid questions raised about the use of the weapon in 1945, or its wide scale development in the coming years. In fact, an official "coverup" of much of this information--involving print accounts, photographs and film footage--continued for years, even, in some cases, decades.

"Clearly," Anthony Weller told me of his father's reports, "they would have supplied an eyewitness account at a moment when the American people badly needed one."

The Scoop That Wasn't

How did George Weller get the scoop-that-wasn't?

After years of covering the Pacific war, Weller (left) arrived in Japan with the first wave of reporters and military in early September. He had already won a Pulitzer for his reporting in 1943. Appalled by MacArthur's censors, and "the conformists" in his profession who went along with strict press restrictions, he made his way, with permission, to the distant island of Kyushu to visit a former kamikaze base. But he noted that it was connected by railroad to Nagasaki. Pretending he was "a major or colonel," as his son put it, he slipped into the city (perhaps by boat) about three days before any of his colleagues, and just after Wilfred Burchett had filed his first report from Hiroshima.

Once arrived, Weller toured the city, the aid stations, the former POW camps (by some counts, more American POWs died from the A-bomb in Nagasaki than Japanese military personnel) and wrote numerous stories within days. According to his son, he managed to send the articles to Tokyo, not by wire, but by hand, and felt "that the sheer volume and importance of the stories would mean they would be respected" by MacArthur and his censors.

Although Weller did not express any outward disapproval of the use of the bomb, these stories -- and others he filed in the following two weeks from the vicinity -- would never see the light of the day, and the reporter lost track of his carbons. He would later summarize the experience with the censorship office in two words: "They won."

In the years that followed, Weller continued his journalism career, winning a George Polk award and other honors and covering many other conflicts. Neither the carbons nor the originals ever surfaced, before he passed away in 2002 at the age of 95. It was then that his son made a full search of the wildly disorganized "archives" at his father's home in Italy, and in 2003 found the carbons just 30 feet from his dad's desk.

And what a find: roughly 75 pages of stories, on fading brownish paper, that covered not only his first atomic dispatches but gripping accounts by prisoners of war, some of whom described watching the bomb go off on that fateful morning.

A 'Peculiar Weapon'

In the first article published by the Japanese paper, the first words from Weller were: "The atomic bomb may be classified as a weapon capable of being used indiscriminately, but its use in Nagasaki was selective and proper and as merciful as such a gigantic force could be expected to be." Weller described himself as "the first visitor to inspect the ruins."

He suggested about 24,000 may have died but he attributed the high numbers to "inadequate" air raid shelters and the "total failure" of the air warning system. He declared that the bomb was "a tremendous, but not a peculiar weapon," and said he spent hours in the ruins without apparent ill effects. He did note, with some regret, that a hospital and an American mission college were destroyed, but pointed out that to spare them would have also meant sparing munitions plants.

In his second story that day, however, following his hospital visits, he would describe "Disease X," and victims, who have "neither a burn or a broken limb," wasting away with "blackish" mouths and red spots, and small children who "have lost some hair."

A third piece, sent to MacArthur the following day, reported the disease "still snatching away lives here. Men, women and children with no outward marks of injury are dying daily in hospitals, some after having walked around three or four weeks thinking they have escaped.

"The doctors ... candidly confessed ... that the answer to the malady is beyond them." At one hospital, 200 of 343 admitted had died: "They are dead -- dead of atomic bomb -- and nobody knows why."  He closed this account with: "Twenty-five Americans are due to arrive Sept. 11 to study the Nagasaki bomb site. Japanese hope they will bring a solution for Disease X." To this day, that solution for the disease--and the threat of nuclear weapons--has still not arrived.

More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my books The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Atomic Cover-up.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

When Truman Failed to Pause in 1945--and the War Crime That Followed


By August 7, 1945, President Truman, while still at sea returning from Potsdam, had been fully briefed on the first atomic attack against a large city in Japan the day before.  In announcing it, he had labeled Hiroshima simply a "military base," but he knew better, and within hours of the blast he had been fully informed about the likely massive toll on civilians (probably 100,000), mainly women and children, as we had planned.  Despite this--and news that the Soviets, as planned, were about to enter the war against Japan--Truman did not order a delay in the use of the second atomic bomb to give Japan a chance to assess, reflect, and surrender.

After all, by this time, Truman (as recorded in his diary and by others) was well aware that the Japanese were hopelessly defeated and seeking terms of surrender--and he had, just two weeks earlier, written "Fini Japs" in his diary when he learned that the Russians would indeed attack around August 7.  Yet Truman, on this day, did nothing, and the second bomb rolled out, and would be used against Nagasaki, killing perhaps 90,000 more, only a couple hundred of them Japanese troops, on August 9.  That's why many who reluctantly support or at least are divided about the use of the bomb against Hiroshima consider Nagasaki a war crime--in fact, the worst one-day war crime in human history.

Below, a piece I wrote not long ago.  One of my books on the atomic bombings describes my visit to Nagasaki at length.
Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, even though it is one of only two cities in the world to "meet the atomic bomb," as some of the survivors of that experience, 68 years ago this week, put it.  It remains the Second City, and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one in America ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. "We are an asterisk," Shinji Takahashi, a sociologist in Nagasaki, once told me, with a bitter smile. "The inferior A-Bomb city."

Yet in many ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-Bomb city, the city with perhaps the most meaning for us today. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

And then there's this. "The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable," Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, "but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki" -- which he labeled a war crime. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who experienced the firebombing of Dresden at close hand, said much the same thing. "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki," he once said. "Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I'm glad I'm not a scientist because I'd feel so guilty now."

A beautiful city dotted with palms largely built on terraces surrounding a deep harbor--the San Francisco of Japan -- Nagasaki has a rich, bloody history, as any reader of Shogun knows. Three centuries before Commodore Perry came to Japan, Nagasaki was the country's gateway to the west. The Portuguese and Dutch settled here in the 1500s. St. Francis Xavier established the first Catholic churches in the region in 1549, and Urakami, a suburb of Nagasaki, became the country's Catholic center. Thomas Glover, one of the first English traders here, supplied the modern rifles that helped defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 19th century.

Glover's life served as a model for the story of Madame Butterfly, and Nagasaki is known in many parts of the world more for Butterfly than for the bomb. In Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, standing on the veranda of Glover's home overlooking the harbor (see left), sings, "One fine day, we'll see a thread of smoke arising.... " If she could have looked north from the Glover mansion, now Nagasaki's top tourist attraction, on August 9, 1945, she would have seen, two miles in the distance, a thread of smoke with a mushroom cap.

By 1945, Nagasaki had become a Mitsubishi company town, turning out ships and armaments for Japan's increasingly desperate war effort. Few Japanese soldiers were stationed here, and only about 250 of them would perish in the atomic bombing. It was still the Christian center in the country, with more than 10,000 Catholics among its 250,000 residents. Most of them lived in the outlying Urakami district, the poor part of town, where a magnificent cathedral seating 6000 had been built.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, "Fat Man" was detonated more than a mile off target, almost directly over the Urakami Cathedral, which was nearly leveled, killing dozens of worshippers waiting for confession. Concrete roads in the valley literally melted.

While Urakami suffered, the rest of the city caught a break. The bomb's blast boomed up the valley destroying everything in its path but didn't quite reach the congested harbor or scale the high ridge to the Nakashima valley. Some 35,000 perished instantly, with another 50,000 or more fated to die afterwards. The plutonium bomb hit with the force of 22 kilotons, almost double the uranium bomb's blast in Hiroshima.

If the bomb had exploded as planned, directly over the Mitsubishi shipyards, the death toll in Nagasaki would have made Hiroshima, in at least one important sense, the Second City. Nothing would have escaped, perhaps not even the most untroubled conscience half a world away.

Hard evidence to support a popular theory that the chance to "experiment" with the plutonium bomb was the major reason for the bombing of Nagasaki remains sketchy but still one wonders (especially when visiting the city, as I recount in my new book) about the overwhelming, and seemingly thoughtless, impulse to automatically use a second atomic bomb even more powerful than the first.

Criticism of the attack on Nagasaki has centered on the issue of why Truman did not step in and stop the second bomb after the success of the first to allow Japan a few more days to contemplate surrender before targeting another city for extinction. In addition, the U.S. knew that its ally, the Soviet Union, would join the war within hours, as previously agreed, and that the entrance of Japan's most hated enemy, as much as the Hiroshima bomb, would likely speed the surrender ("fini Japs" when the Russians declare war, Truman had predicted in his diary). If that happened, however, it might cost the U.S. in a wider Soviet claim on former Japanese conquests in Asia. So there was much to gain by getting the war over before the Russians advanced. Some historians have gone so far as state that the Nagasaki bomb was not the last shot of World War II but the first blow of the Cold War.

Whether this is true or not, there was no presidential directive specifically related to dropping the second bomb. The atomic weapons in the U.S. arsenal, according to the July 2, 1945 order, were to be used "as soon as made ready," and the second bomb was ready within three days of Hiroshima. Nagasaki was thus the first and only victim of automated atomic warfare.

In one further irony, Nagasaki was not even on the original target list for A-bombs but was added after Secretary of War Henry Stimson objected to Kyoto. He had visited Kyoto himself and felt that destroying Japan's cultural capital would turn the citizens against America in the aftermath. Just like that, tens of thousands in one city were spared and tens of thousands of others elsewhere were marked for death.

General Leslie Groves, upon learning of the Japanese surrender offer after the Nagasaki attack, decided that the "one-two" strategy had worked, but he was pleased to learn the second bomb had exploded off the mark, indicating "a smaller number of casualties than we had expected." But as historian Martin Sherwin has observed, "If Washington had maintained closer control over the scheduling of the atomic bomb raids the annihilation of Nagasaki could have been avoided." Truman and others simply did not care, or to be charitable, did not take care. That's one reason the US suppressed all film footage shot in Nagasaki and Hiroshima for decades (which I probe in my book and ebook Atomic Cover-up).

After hearing of Nagasaki, however, Truman quickly ordered that no further bombs be used without his express permission, to give Japan a reasonable chance to surrender--one bomb, one city, and seventy thousand deaths too late. When they'd learned of the Hiroshima attack, the scientists at Los Alamos generally expressed satisfaction that their work had paid off. But many of them took Nagasaki quite badly. Some would later use the words "sick" or "nausea" to describe their reaction.

As months and then years passed, few Americans denounced as a moral wrong the targeting of entire cities for extermination. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, declared that we never should have hit Japan "with that awful thing." The left-wing writer Dwight MacDonald cited America's "decline to barbarism" for dropping "half-understood poisons" on a civilian population. His conservative counterpart, columnist and magazine editor David Lawrence, lashed out at the "so-called civilized side" in the war for dropping bombs on cities that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

However much we rejoice in victory, he wrote, "we shall not soon purge ourselves of the feeling of guilt which prevails among us.... What a precedent for the future we have furnished to other nations even less concerned than we with scruples or ideals! Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done. If we state our inner thoughts honestly, we are ashamed of it."

Greg Mitchell's books and ebooks include "Hollywood Bomb" and "Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made." Email: epic1934@aol.com

Monday, August 8, 2022

When Donna Reed Inspired Hollywood's First A-Bomb Movie

The letter addressed to Mrs. Donna Owen arrived at her oceanfront Santa Monica home on October 28, 1945. The return address on the envelope revealed that it came from her beloved high school chemistry teacher back in Denison, Iowa, when she lived on a farm and was still known as Donna Belle Mullenger. She had stayed in touch with handsome young Ed Tompkins for a few years after graduation, but then he suddenly vanished, without explanation, and had not responded to any of her letters.
This seemed odd. Tompkins had deeply influenced her outlook on life a decade earlier when she was an aimless sophomore, after he gifted her a copy of the popular Dale Carnegie
Tompkins and former student
self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. In short order her grades soared, she secured the lead role in the high school play (Ayn Rand’s The Night of January 16), and she was voted Campus Queen. Donna Belle wanted to become a teacher but her parents could not afford a major school, so she moved to the West Coast to enroll in low-tuition Los Angeles City College. While she appeared in stage productions, she had no aspirations to become a professional actress. Soon the honey-haired beauty attracted the attention of talent scouts, leading to several screen tests. Signed by MGM to a seven-year contract at the age of twenty, she appeared in her first movie, The Get-Away, billed as Donna Adams.
Many supporting roles followed, with her name changed to one she hated, feeling it had a dull, harsh sound that didn’t reflect her personality at all: Donna Reed. Still, she secured roles in Shadow of the Thin Man, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Apache Trail, and married her makeup man. She graduated from Mickey Rooney’s love interest in The Courtship of Andy Hardy to John Wayne’s object of desire in John Ford’s They Were Expendable. She could play midwestern wholesome in her sleep, but some directors felt her range was narrow, and MGM had a flock of other young actresses to draw on. (Fearing she’d lose out if she took time off, she endured an abortion.) Along the way she became a popular girl-next-door pinup during World War II for homesick GIs, and personally answered many of their letters. She got divorced and in June 1945, still only twenty-four-years-old, married her agent, Tony Owen. 
Then, that autumn, she signed with RKO for perhaps her biggest role yet, as Mary Bailey, wife of James Stewart in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, after Ginger Rogers turned it down as “too bland.” At the same time she finally discovered what had happened to Ed Tompkins. A newspaper story revealed that he had been sworn to silence for several years after joining thousands of others in helping to create the first atomic bomb at the Manhattan Project site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After reading the article, she sent him another letter, this time care of Oak Ridge.
Now she had received a reply. Opening the envelope, she unfolded a typed, single-spaced, two-and-a-half-page letter from Dr. Tompkins. The tone, given their formerly close relationship, was surprisingly formal (despite its “Dear Donna” salutation), and urgent. “The development of atomic explosives necessitates a reevaluation of many of our previous modes of thought and life,” he began. “This conclusion had been reached by the research scientists who developed these powerful new explosives long before August 6, 1945.” That, of course, was the day the first atomic bomb exploded over the city of Hiroshima in Japan, killing more than 125,000, the vast majority of them women and children. Three days later, Nagasaki met the same fate, with a death toll reaching at least 75,000.
The day before Reed received the Tompkins letter at her modest beach house more than ninety thousand locals had gathered in the Los Angeles Coliseum to witness a “Tribute to
With Manhattan Project director Leslie Groves

Victory” program. It featured a re-creation of the bombing of Hiroshima, narrated by actor Edward G. Robinson. A B-29 bomber, caught in searchlights, dropped a package that produced a large noise and a small mushroom cloud. The crowd went wild.
Americans, weeks after the Japanese surrender, were relieved that the war was over but nervous about atomic energy. Scientists, political figures, and poets alike were sounding a similar theme—splitting the atom could bring wonderful advances, if used wisely, or destroy the world, if developed for military purposes. Atomic dreams, and nightmares, ran wild. “Seldom, if ever, has a war ended leaving the victors with such a sense of uncertainty and fear,” warned radio commentator Edward R. Murrow, with “survival not assured.”
 In the rather dense letter to his former pupil, Tompkins explained that the scientists’ initial “excitement” and pride in what they had accomplished were now subsumed by much soul-searching. Until the Hiroshima blast, many of his colleagues were unaware they had been working on a munitions project. Others had signed physicist Leo Szilard’s futile petition asking President Harry S. Truman to hold off using the new weapon against Japan. In any case, a large number were now opposed to the building of new and even bigger earth-shattering bombs.
Tompkins revealed that thousands of Manhattan Project scientists had now formed associations in Oak Ridge, Chicago, Los Alamos, and New York to deliver their warnings and “to foster thought and discussion which can lead to adoption of international control of atomic energy.” Contrary to claims by military leaders and politicians, there was “NO possibility” that the United States could keep a monopoly on production of these weapons. The so-called secret of the atomic bomb was known internationally. The Soviets, for example, would surely build their own bombs within a few years. Finally, there could never be an effective defense against these weapons, and “a hundred long-range rockets carrying atomic explosives could wipe out our civilization in a matter of minutes.”
In light of all this, it was imperative that effective international controls be established as soon as feasible. But what did Donna’s old chem teacher (and positive thinking advocate) want her to do about it? Tompkins revealed that the new associations were showering elected officials in Washington with leaflets, lobbying influential reporters and commentators, and preparing a major book. This was “a good start but much remains to be done,” he noted. It seemed to him “there would be a large segment of the population that could be reached most effectively through the movies.” His final paragraph featured an explicit pitch:

Do you think a movie could be planned and produced to successfully impress upon the public the horrors of atomic warfare. . . . It would, of course, have to hold the interest of the public, and still not sacrifice the message. Would you be willing to help sell this idea to MGM? Or if not, could you send us the names of the men who should be contacted in this matter? We would be not only willing but anxious to offer our technical advice in the preparation of the script and settings. . . . You can, no doubt, think of many forms which such a picture could take.

Never inserting even a hint of personal familiarity from their days in Iowa, or asking about her life or career, Tompkins concluded with the plea, “Will you give the whole matter your consideration and perhaps discuss it with others at the studio? I’d appreciate hearing your reaction to the suggestion as soon as possible.”
Just days later, after speaking to other members of the activist group at Oak Ridge, Tompkins fired off a second letter to “Mr. and Mrs. Tony Owen.” He had polled his peers and found they were willing and eager to wander down the Hollywood path, but not quite blindly. Tompkins boldly proposed that the couple fly east to Oak Ridge at their own expense the following week to discuss the project, with no time to waste. Together they could hash out a scenario for “a very good picture with a lot of public appeal” that would hit the theaters before any other entry—and then catch a short flight to Washington to gain the required approval of the Manhattan Project director, General Leslie R. Groves. “I wish to thank you for the great interest you have taken in this matter,” Tompkins concluded.
Well, that was a lot for Donna Reed, or anyone, to digest. Just seven years earlier the same man had been delivering quite a different lesson in a classroom. Fortunately she had someone to share it with and, as she told Tompkins in a brief phone call, carry the ball in responding to his feverish pleading. This was her new husband, Tony Owen, a slick, fast-talking dynamo who was thirteen years her senior. Owen, a native of New Orleans and Chicago (real name: Irving Ohnstein), had served as vice president of the Detroit Lions pro football team after brief careers as an actor and as a newspaper reporter. Following a stint in the military, he settled in Los Angeles and secured his first clients as a talent agent.
When he finished reading the Tompkins missives, Owen started calling producers to gauge their interest, if any. Having not heard from Donna again, Tompkins called her at home. She said she had started three letters to him but each became outdated by events. Her husband had learned from studio insiders that it might be a simple matter to get such a movie produced if the military signaled its approval—and exclusive dramatic rights for key figures in the story could be obtained. Reed warned Tompkins, however, that Hollywood studios were reluctant to make any pictures with “political repercussions.” When he told her that scientists were already sketching scenarios for a script, she advised that surely any of them would be “completely rewritten” by the studio.
Tony Owen, meanwhile,is wifeHis called his friend Samuel Marx, a top producer at MGM, where Reed was still under contract. Marx agreed to meet him the next day for breakfast at the swanky Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There he would find Owen in a highly animated state. Owen showed him the letter to his wife from Tompkins, which the producer found fascinating. (Marx got the impression that Tompkins may have once had something of a secret “crush” on his pupil.) The producer offered to take Owen to meet with Louis B. Mayer, one of the most powerful men in town and the studio chief since the 1920s, straight away. So they raced their automobiles to the studio lot at Culver City. Mayer knew Owen well, had even attended his recent wedding.
As it happens, MGM had expressed some interest in an atomic bomb film nearly two months earlier, with the Japanese victims of the attacks still smoldering in the ruins. On August 9, just hours after the assault on Nagasaki, MGM’s Washington representative, Carter Barron, phoned the chief of the Pentagon’s Feature Film Division to discuss the possibility of the studio rushing ahead with an exclusive movie about the bomb project. Five days later, Barron wrote him to reveal that MGM was “now working” on a movie tentatively titled Atomic Bomb and would appreciate any useful “information or material.” The heroine would be a physicist associated with the genesis of nuclear fission, Lise Meitner, who had fled Germany for Sweden in 1938. But nothing came of Barron’s interest and the idea seemingly expired at the studio.
Now, MGM was being handed, via Donna Reed and Ed Tompkins, a unique and exclusive entry point to a far more ambitious cinematic bomb project. To date the studio’s main reference to the new weapon was crowning its newly signed starlet Linda Christian “The Anatomic Bomb” (leading to a full-page photo of her in a swimsuit in Life magazine).
In his massive office at the studio, sitting behind his pure-white oval desk in the sprawling Thalberg Building, L.B. Mayer greeted the fervent Marx and Owen. The actress Helen Hayes once called Mayer “the most evil man I have ever dealt with in my life,” yet called MGM “the great film studio of the world—not just of America, or of Hollywood, but of the world.” Sam Marx considered him ruthless, an unprincipled pirate, but like others recognized that Mayer’s deceptions and bullying—not to mention his eye for talent and understanding of movie audiences—proved pivotal for the studio. Mayer, no intellectual, tolerated “social issue” pictures but loved escapist entertainment. Among MGM’s greatest films were an inordinate number of musicals, from The Wizard of Oz to An American in Paris.
Listening to the atomic bomb pitch, Mayer grew excited. Now in his early sixties, overweight, and white-haired, King Louis remained vigorous, vulgar, tyrannical, and, as always, quick to judge. With little prompting, he promised that if the necessary approvals and rights were gathered he would make an epic film on this subject his top priority for 1946! He would budget at least $2 million for it, a lofty sum for that time. It might one day be “the most important movie” he would ever film (and this was the man who had made Gone with the Wind), perhaps in the vein of his 1943 film, Madame Curie, but more topical. This was a man, born in Minsk and raised in Canada, so patriotic he falsely claimed he had been born on the Fourth of July (the actual date was July 12) and for years staged an elaborate studio picnic that day to mark the occasion.
Eager to rush forward, Mayer urged Owen and Marx to seek clearances that very minute, straight from the top—“from the horse’s mouth,” as Mayer put it. “Let’s call President Truman himself,” he suggested. Mayer was a rock-ribbed Republican, but the studio titan believed Truman would surely accept his call. It took some persuading, but Owen finally talked him down from that idea. Instead, Mayer ordered Marx to call the studio’s representative in DC, Carter Barron, to find out if White House and military approvals were likely to come.
The following day Barron assured him on this score, but added that to make sure of that—and, also, gather background information and gauge the mood of scientists and generals—Marx and Owen should visit both Oak Ridge and Washington as soon as possible. Louis B. Mayer ordered Marx to “take the Starwind” (MGM’s private plane) and “come back and tell me what you find.”

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Hiroshima: The Day After


Another post related to my new film, Atomic Cover-up, and new book, The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

 President Truman's announcement to the nation--in which he carefully IDed Hiroshima only as a "military base," not a large city--broke the news of both the invention of an atomic bomb and its first use in war.  By that evening, radio commentators were weighing in with observations that often transcended Truman's announcement, suggesting that the public imagination was outrunning the official story. Contrasting emotions of gratification and anxiety had already emerged. H.V. Kaltenhorn warned, "We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we use today can be turned against us."

It wasn't until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government's press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S. newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed by the Pentagon several hours after the president's announcement. They carried headlines such as: "Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden Cities" and "New Age Ushered."

Many of them written by one man: W.L. Laurence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, "embedded" with the atomic project. General Leslie Groves, military director of the Manhattan Project, would later reflect, with satisfaction, that "most newspapers published our releases in their entirety. This is one of the few times since government releases have become so common that this has been done."

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the nuclear narrative. It would not take long, however, for breaks in the official story to appear.

At first, journalists had to follow where the Pentagon led. Wartime censorship remained in effect, and there was no way any reporter could reach Hiroshima for a look around. One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced, "has been an overwhelming success."

The sailors were said to be "uproarious" over the news. "I guess I'll get home sooner now," was a typical response. Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!" 

On Aug. 7, military officials confirmed that Hiroshima had been devastated: at least 60% of the city wiped off the map. They offered no casualty estimates, emphasizing instead that the obliterated area housed major industrial targets. (In  fact, 80% of the casualies would be civilians, mainly women and children.)  The Air Force provided the newspapers with an aerial photograph of Hiroshima. Significant targets were identified by name. For anyone paying close attention there was something troubling about this picture. Of the 30 targets, only four were specifically military in nature. "Industrial" sites consisted of three textile mills. (Indeed, a U.S. survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10% of the city's manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities damaged.)

On Guam, weaponeer William S. Parsons and Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets calmly answered reporters' questions, limiting their remarks to what they had observed after the bomb exploded. Asked how he felt about the people down below at the time of detonation, Parsons said that he experienced only relief that the bomb had worked and might be "worth so much in terms of shortening the war."

Almost without exception newspaper editorials endorsed the use of the bomb against Japan. Many of them sounded the theme of revenge first raised in the Truman announcement. Most of them emphasized that using the bomb was merely the logical culmination of war. "However much we deplore the necessity," the Washington Post observed, "a struggle to the death commits all combatants to inflicting a maximum amount of destruction on the enemy within the shortest span of time." The Post added that it was "unreservedly glad that science put this new weapon at our disposal before theend of the war."

Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune commented: "Being merciless, they were merciful." A drawing in the same newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in its beak.   Meanwhile, the unthinking atomic assembly line had rolled out another bomb, targeted on Kokura with Nagasaki as backup.  No separate order  was required or given by Truman.

Trailer for Atomic Cover-up film.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

American POWs Died at Hiroshima

The deaths have been known for awhile but the reports still shock most people.  I've written about it for years. Few Americans know that among the tens of thousands victims in Hiroshima were at least a dozen and perhaps more American prisoners of war.

This was kept from the American people—even the families of the victims—for decades, along with so much else related to the atomic bombings (that's one victim, John Hantschel, at left).  One night,  as a pair screamed in pain in their cells—asking to be put out of their misery—the other Americans asked the Japanese doctors to do something. “Do something?” one of the doctors replied. “You tell me what to do. You caused this.” The two men died later that night.

Three days after the Hiroshima blast, perhaps as many as a dozen Dutch POWs were killed in the bombing of Nagasaki. One American soldier there, a Navajo from New Mexico, survived in his cell.

More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my new book The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and earlier book Atomic Cover-up.

Inside a Mound in Hiroshima

In the northwestern corner of the Hiroshima Peace Park, amid a quiet grove of trees, the earth suddenly swells. It is not much of a mound -- only about ten feet high and sixty feet across. Unlike most mounds, however, this one is hollow, and within it rests perhaps the greatest concentration of human residue in the world.rey clouds rising from sticks of incense hang in the air, spookily. Tourists do not dawdle here. Visitors searching for the Peace Bell, directly ahead, or the Children's Monument, down the path to the right, hurry past it without so much as a sideways glance. Still, it has a strange beauty: a lump of earth (not quite lush) topped by a small monument that resembles the tip of a pagoda.

On one side of the Memorial Mound the gray wooden fence has a gate, and down five steps from the gate is a door. Visitors are usually not allowed through that door, but occasionally the city of Hiroshima honors a request from a foreign journalist.

Inside the mound the ceiling is low, the light fluorescent. One has to stoop to stand. To the right and left, pine shelving lines the walls. Stacked neatly on the shelves, like cans of soup in a supermarket, are white porcelain canisters with Japanese lettering on the front. On the day I visited, there were more than a thousand cans in all, explained Masami Ohara, a city official. Each canister contained the ashes of one person killed by the atomic bomb.

Behind twin curtains on either side of an altar, several dozen pine boxes, the size of caskets, were stacked, unceremoniously, from floor to ceiling. They hold the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb. If, in an instant, all of the residents of Wilmington, Delaware, or Santa Fe, New Mexico, were reduced to ashes, and those ashes carried away to one repository, this is all the room the remains would require.

More than 100,000 in Hiroshima were killed by The Bomb, the vast majority of them women and children, plus elderly males.  Fewer than one in ten were in the military. 

Most of those who died in Hiroshima were cremated quickly, partly to prevent an epidemic of disease. Others were efficiently turned to ash by the atomic bomb itself, death and cremation occurring in the same instant. Those reduced by human hands were cremated on makeshift altars at a temple that once stood at the present site of the mound, one-half mile from the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

In 1946, an Army Air Force squad, ordered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to film the results of the massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Japanese cities during World War II, shot a solemn ceremony at the temple, capturing a young woman receiving a canister of ashes from a local official. That footage, and all of the rest that they filmed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealing the full aftermath of the bombings, would be suppressed by the United States for decades (as I probe in my book Atomic Cover-Up).

Later that year, survivors of the atomic bombing began contributing funds to build a permanent vault at this site and, in 1955, the Memorial Mound was completed. For several years the collection of ashes grew because remains of victims were still being found. One especially poignant pile was discovered at an elementary school.

The white cans (that's my photo) on the shelves have stood here for decades, unclaimed by family members or friends. In many cases, all of the victims' relatives and friends were killed by the bomb. Every year local newspapers publish the list of names written on the cans, and every year several canisters are finally claimed and transferred to family burial sites. Most of the unclaimed cans (a total of just over 800 in 2010, for example) will remain in the mound in perpetuity, now that so many years have passed.

They are a chilling sight. The cans are bright white, like the flash in the sky over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. From all corners of the city the ashes were collected: the remains of soldiers, physicians, housewives, infants. Unclaimed, they at least have the dignity of a private urn, an identity, a life (if one were able to look into it) before death.

But what of the seventy thousand behind the curtains? The pine crates are marked with names of sites where the human dust and bits of bone were found -- a factory or a school, perhaps, or a neighborhood crematory. But beyond that, the ashes are anonymous. Thousands may still grieve for these victims but there is no dignity here. "They are all mixed together," said Ohara, "and will never be separated or identified." Under a mound, behind two curtains, inside a few pine boxes: This is what became of one-quarter of the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

My new book is  THE BEGINNING OR THE END: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,

Friday, August 5, 2022

Why Hiroshima Matters Today

Seventy-seven years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb is still very much with us and controversy continues to swirl over the decision to obliterate the two Japanese cities.  My new book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, certainly puts this center stage.

Hiroshima, in any case, remains a vital lesson for us all, not only for the first use of a nuclear weapon there, but because of the “first use” nuclear policy the U.S. maintains today. 

Even the fact that the U.S. still has a first-strike policy (meaning we will use nukes first in a crisis if need be) will surprise many, especially with the end of the Cold War now a distant memory for some.

It’s a subject practically off-limits in the media and in American policy circles. Even the  antinuclear documentary Countdown to Zero, which outlined many serious nuclear dangers (from an accidental launch to a terror attack on America), failed to even mention the possibility that the U.S. might choose to use nuclear weapons again. Resisting a no-first-use pledge, in fact, has been a cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades.

Following a few positive signs from Obama, I fear that moving very far in the direction of no-first-use is still a long way off in Trump's America.

Perhaps the strongest reason is this: most Americans, our media and our leaders (including every president), have endorsed our “first-use” of the bomb against Japan. This remains true today, despite new evidence and analysis that has emerged for so many years. I’ve been probing this for over thirty years — in hundreds of articles, a new film, in three books — with little shift in the polls or change in heart among our policymakers and elected officials.

There has also been little change abroad — where the use of the bomb in 1945 has been roundly condemned from the beginning. Indeed, U.S. support, even pride, in our use of the weapon has given us little moral standing in arguing that other countries should not develop nuclear weapons and consider using them, possibly as a first, not a last, resort (that’s our policy, remember).

So it all goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While I respect the views of a range of historians on this matter, and the opinions of the men who fought in the Pacific, I happen to believe the bombs should not have been used against Japan — directly over the center of massive cities — at that time. The war would likely have ended very shortly without it (the bloody American invasion was not set until months later), largely because of the Soviets finally declaring war on Japan — an event long-dreaded by Japanese leaders.

Yes, there was a day when conservatives like John Foster Dulles, columnist David Lawrence, Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight D. Eisenhower — “We shouldn’t have hit them with that awful thing,” Ike declared — clearly condemned the use of the bombs. They knew that the argument of “saving tens of thousands of American lives” only counted if an invasion actually was necessary. We had demanded “unconditional surrender,” dropped the bombs — then accepted the main Japanese demand, keeping their emperor as figurehead.

But the key point for today is this: how the “Hiroshima narrative” has been handed down to generations of Americans — and overwhelmingly endorsed by officials and the media, even if many historians disagree — matters greatly.

Over and over, top policymakers and commentators say, “We must never use nuclear weapons,” yet they endorse the two times the weapons have been used against cities in a first strike. To make any exceptions, even in the past — and in certainly a horrid situation — means exceptions can be made in the future. Indeed, we have already made two exceptions, with more than 200,000 civilians killed. The line against using nuclear weapons has been drawn... in the sand.

To cite just one example: Before our attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1990, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney said on TV that we would consider using nuclear weapons against Iraq but would hold off “at this point” — then specifically cited President Truman’s use of the bomb as morally correct. Some polls at the time showed strong support from the American public for using nukes if our military so advised.

And other polls since then show the same thing concerning other nuclear scenarios. Recent ones show as many as half of U.S. citizens would support on first-strike on Iran or North Korea--even if it might kill a million of more.

And, as I’ve noted, the fact that the United States first developed, and then used — twice — the WMD to end all WMDs has severely compromised our arguments against others building the weapon ever since. Hiroshima was our original sin, and we are still paying for it, even if most Americans do not recognize this.

That is why I always urge everyone to study the history surrounding the decision to use the bomb and how the full story was covered up for decades. (You could do worse than try my new book,  The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,)  There is certainly, in the minds of the media and the American public, no taboo on using nuclear weapons, and it all started, but did not end, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is what nuclear abolitionists — or even those who simply want a partial easing of our first-use policy — are up against.

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 1 Day

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.    I've written  three books and ebooks on the subject including my latest, The Beginning or the End,   Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton) and Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking footageshot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military, also now an award-winning film that I have directed). My photo above taken on a later August 6, 1984.

August 5, 1945:

  —Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third. The aiming point was directly over the city, not the military base or industrial quarter, guaranteeing the deaths of tens of thousands of women and children.   The surrounding hills, it was known, would provide a "focusing effect" that would kill more.

—Pilot Paul Tibbets formally named the lead plane in the mission, #82, after his mother, Enola Gay. A B-29 that would take photos on the mission would be named, wait for it,  Necessary Evil.

—Also on Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General Curtis LeMay to make the call. At 3:30 p.m., in an air-conditioned bomb assembly hut, the five-ton bomb as loaded (gently) on to a trailer. Crew members scribbled words onto the bomb in crayon, including off-color greetings for the Japanese. Pulled by a tractor, accompanied by a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles, the new weapon arrives at the North Field and is lowered into the bomb pit.

--The bomb is still not armed. The man who would do, before takeoff, according to plan, was Parsons. But he had other ideas, fearing that the extra-heavy B-29 might crash on takeoff and taking with it “half the island.” He asked if he could arm the bomb in flight, and spent a few hours—on a hot and muggy August day—practicing before getting the okay.

—Pilot Tibbets tries to nap, without much success. Then, in the assembly hall just before midnight, he tells the crew, that the new bomb was “very powerful” but he did not mention the words “nuclear,” “atomic’ or “radiation.” He calls forward a Protestant chaplain who delivers a prayer he’d written for this occasion on the back of an envelope. It asks God to “to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies.”

— The Soviets are two days from declaring war on Japan and marching across Manchuria. Recall that Truman had just written in diary "Fini Japs" when the Soviets would declare war, even without the Bomb.  (See new evidence that it was the Soviet declaration of war, more than the atomic bombing, that was the decisive factor in Japan's surrender.)

 —Halfway around the world from Tinian, on board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes.  His announcement on the bombing--calling the large city merely a "military base"--has already been written.  Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 2 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 4, 1945:

—On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. With the weather clearing near Hiroshima, still the primary target, taking off the night of August 5 appears the most likely scenario. Secretary of War Stimson writes of a “troubled” day due to the uncertain weather, adding: “The S-1 operation was postponed from Friday night [August 3] until Saturday night and then again Saturday night until Sunday.”

—Hiroshima remains the primary target--the very center of the highly-populated city--with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third.

--Gen. Douglas MacArthur,  who directed the U.S. war in the Pacific, and would soon become the head of our occupation of Japan, had still not been told of the existence and planned use of the new bomb.  Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal:  "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."  As we noted earlier, both General Eisenhower and Truman's top aide, Admiral Leahy, both protested the use of the bomb against Japan in advance.

—Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay, finally briefs others in the 509th Composite Group who will take part in the mission at 3 pm. Military police seal the building. Tibbets reveals that they will drop immensely powerful bombs, but the nature of the weapons are not revealed, only that it is “something new in the history of warfare.” When weaponeer Deke Parsons says, “We think it will knock out almost everything within a three-mile radius,” the audience gasps.

Then he tries to show a film clip of the recent Trinity test—but the projector starts shredding the film. Parsons adds, “No one knows exactly what will happen when the bomb is dropped from the air,” and he distributes welder’s glasses for the men to wear. But he does not relate any warnings about radioactivity or order them not to fly through the mushroom cloud.

 —On board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes and plays poker with one of the bomb drop’s biggest booster, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes. Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.  Hence: assembly-line massacre in Nagasaki.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 3 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and in a new film.   For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 3, 1945

--On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. Taking off the night of August 5 appears most likely scenario.

--On board the ship Augusta steaming home for USA after Potsdam meeting, President Truman, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Leahy, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes--a strong A-bomb booster--enjoy some poker.   Byrnes aide Walter Brown notes in his diary that "President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes) agreed Japan looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."

--Leahy had questioned the decision to use the bomb, later writing: "[T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.... [I]n being the first to use it, we...adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

 --Our "Magic" intercepts show Japan monitoring the Soviets' military buildup in the Far East (prelude to the declaration of war in four days).  Also, Japanese still searching for way to approach Molotov to pursue possible surrender terms before that happens. Another Magic intercept carried the heading, "Japanese Army's interest in peace negotiations." War Department intel analysts revealed "the first statement to appear in the traffic that the Japanese Army is interested in the effort to end the war with Soviet assistance." A segment of Prime Minister Togo's message declared: "The Premier and the leaders of the Army are now concentrating all their attention on this one point."

--John McCloy, then assistant secretary of war and a well-known "hawk" in his later career, would later reflect, "I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."

 --Soviet General Vasilevskii reports to Stalin that Soviet forces ready for invasion from August 7 on.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 4 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

August 2, 1945

—Early today, Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay (named after his mom) on the first mission, reported to Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Air Force headquartters on Guam. LeMay told him the “primary” was still Hiroshima. Bombardier Thomas Ferebee pointed on a map what the aiming point for the bomb would be—a distinctive T-shaped bride in the center of the city, not the local army base. “It’s the most perfect aiming I’ve seen in the whole damned war,” Tibbets said. But the main idea was to set the bomb off over the center of the city, which rests in kind of a bowl, so that the surrounding hills would supply a “focusing effect” that would lead to added destruction and loss of life in city mainly filled by women and children.

—By 3 p.m., top secret orders were being circulated for Special Bombing Mission #13, now set for August 6, when the weather would clear. The first alternate to Hiroshima was Kokura. The second, Nagasaki. The order called for only “visual bombing,” not radar, so the weather had to be okay. Six planes would take part. Two would escort the Enola Gay, one would take photos, the other would be a kind of mobile lab, dropping canisters to send back scientific information.

—Meanwhile, three B-29s arrived at Tinian carrying from Los Alamos the bomb assemblies for the second Fat Man device (which would use plutonium, the substance of choice for the future, unlike the uranium bomb meant for Hiroshima). 

 —Japanese cables and other message intercepted by the United States showed that they were still trying to enlist the Soviets' help in presenting surrender terms--they would even send an envoy--but were undecided on just what to propose. The Russians, meanwhile, were just five days from declaring war on Japan.

--Top U.S. officials were on now centering on allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor when they give up.  In his diary Secretary of War Stimson endorses a key report which concludes: "The retention of the Emperor will probably insure the immediate surrender of all Japanese Forces outside the home islands."  Would offering that win a swift Japanese surrender--without the need to use the bomb?  Not considered.

—Six years ago earlier on this day, August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt stating the Germans were trying to enrich uranium 235—and that this process would allow them to build an atomic bomb. This helped spark FDR’s decision to create the Manhattan Project. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus 5 Days

Every year at this time I trace the final days leading to the first use of the atomic bomb against two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, tragic decisions made by President Truman, his advisers, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As some know, this is a subject that I have explored in hundreds of articles, thousands of posts,  and in three books, since 1984:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-up and last year's Hollywood epic, The Beginning or the End.   Now I've directed an award-winning documentary

On this date:

—Truman wrote a letter to his wife Bess last night talking about the atomic bomb (but without revealing it): “He [Stalin] doesn’t know it but I have an ace in the hole and another one showing—so unless he has threes or two pair (and I know he has not) we are sitting all right.”

And today he gives a letter to Stalin, which confounds the Soviet leader. Earlier, Stalin had promised to declare war on Japan around August 10. Now Truman writes that more consultation is needed. Truman had earlier pushed for the quick entry, writing in his diary "fini Japs" when that occurred, even without use of The Bomb. Now that he has the bomb in his "pocket" he apparently hopes to stall the Soviets.

 --Truman has also approved statement on the use of the bomb, brought to him last night in Germany by a courier, drafted by Secretary of War Stimson and others, and ordered it released after the bomb drop. A line near the start has been added explicitly depicting the vast city of Hiroshima (occupied mainly by women and children) as nothing but a “military base.” The president, and the drafters of the statement, knew was false. An earlier draft described the city of Nagasaki as a “naval base” and nothing more. There would be no reference to radiation effects whatsoever in the statement—it was just a vastly bigger bomb.

—The Potsdam conference ended early this morning, with Truman expected to head back to the US by sea tomorrow.

—The “Little Boy” atomic bomb is now ready for use on the island of Tinian. Under the direction of the lead pilot, Paul Tibbetts, practice runs have been completed, near Iwo Jima, and fake payloads dropped, with success. Truman’s order had given the okay for the first mission later this day and it might have happened if a typhoon was not approaching Japan.

—Stimson writes in his diary about decision today to release to the press, with Truman’s coming statement after  the use of the bomb, a 200-page report on the building of the bomb, revised to not give too much away. Here he explains why they will release it at all: “The aim of the paper is to backfire reckless statements by independent scientists after the demonstration of the bomb. If we could be sure that these could be controlled and avoided, all of us would much prefer not to issue such a paper. But under the circumstances of the entire independence of action of scientists and the certainty that there would be a tremendous amount of excitement and reckless statement, [Gen. Leslie] Groves, who is a very conservative man, had reached the conclusion that the lesser evil would be for us to make a statement carefully prepared so as not to give away anything vital and thus try to take the stage away from the others.”

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 6 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki  in August 1945. This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including the new one, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and now this year in an award-winning film, Atomic Cover-up.  For earlier days scroll down main page for this blog.

July 31, 1945:

--In Germany, Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Truman--and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer during the war--continues to privately express doubts about the bomb, that it may not work and is not needed,  in any case. (Gen. Eisenhower had just come out against using the Bomb.)  Leahy would later write in his memoirs: 

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

--The assembly of Little Boy is completed. It is ready for use the next day.  But a  typhoon approaching Japan will likely prevent launching an attack. Several days might be  required for weather to clear.

--Secretary of War Stimson sends semi-final draft of statement for Truman to read when first bomb used and he has to explain its use, and the entire bomb project, to the U.S. and the world, with this cover note: "Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night.  The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time."  The statement would later be amended to include the name of the first city destroyed and add that it was not a city but a "military base."
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 7 Days

Every year at this time I trace the final days leading to the first use of the atomic bomb against two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, tragic decisions made by President Truman, his advisers, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As some know, this is a subject that I have explored in hundreds of articles, thousands of posts,  and in three books, since 1984:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-up and last year's Hollywood epic, The Beginning or the End (see  cover at top right to order).  Now I've directed an award-winning documentary, watch trailer  here.  

July 30, 1945

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of U.S. troops in Europe, has visited President Truman in Germany, and would recall what happened in his memoir (Mandate for Change): "Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act...

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."

In a Newsweek interview, Ike would add: "...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."   And for another thing, Russia was about to declare war on Japan and Truman had just written in his diary, "Fini Japs" when that happened, even without the Bomb.

-- Stimson, now back at the Pentagon, cabled Truman, that he had drafted a statement for the president that would follow the first use of the new weapon--and Truman must urgently review it because the bomb could be used as early as August 1. Stimson sent one of his aides to Germany with two copies of the statement. The top secret, six-page typed statement opened: "____ hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on ______ and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe." Later, as we will see, the claim that Hiroshima was merely "a military base" was added to the draft.

--After scientists sifted more data from the July 16 Trinity test of the first weapon, Gen. Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project provided Gen. George Marshall, our top commander, with more detail on the destructive power of atomic weapons. Amazingly, despite the new evidence, Groves recommended that troops could move into the "immediate explosion area" within a half hour (and, indeed, in future bomb tests soldiers would march under the mushroom clouds and receive harmful doses of radiation). Groves also provided the schedule for the delivery of the weapons: By the end of November more than ten weapons would be available, in the event the war had continued.

--Groves faced a new problem, however. Gen. "Tooey" Spaatz on Guam urgently cabled that sources suggested that there was an Allied prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki just a mile north of the center of the city. Should it remain on the target list?" Groves, who had already dropped Kyoto from the list after Stimson had protested, refused to shift. In another cable Spaatz revealed that there were no POW camps in Hiroshima, or so they believed. This firmed up Groves's position that Hiroshima should "be given top priority," weather permitting. As it turned out, POWs died in both cities from the bombing.

Trailer for my film:   https://vimeo.com/509903756

Friday, July 29, 2022

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 8 Days

Every year at this time I trace the final days leading to the first use of the atomic bomb against two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, tragic decisions made by President Truman, his advisers, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As some know, this is a subject that I have explored in hundreds of articles, thousands of posts,  and in three books, since 1984:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-up and last year's Hollywood epic, The Beginning or the End.   Now I've directed an award-winning documentary

On July 29, 1945: 

—Truman wrote letter to wife Bess from Potsdam on dealings there (but does not mention A-bomb discussions with Soviets): “I like Stalin. He is straightforward, knows what he wants and will compromise when he can’t get it. His Foreign Minister isn’t so forthright.“ Truman casually informed Stalin about the atomic bomb but no one is quite certain that the latter understood.

—Japanese sub sinks the U.S.S. Indianapolis, killing over 800 American seamen. If it had happened three days earlier, the atomic bomb the ship was carrying to Tinian would have never made it.

—A Newsweek story observes: “As Allied air and sea attacks hammered the stricken homeland, Japan’s leaders assessed the war situation and found it bordering on the disastrous…. As usual, the nation’s propaganda media spewed out brave double-talk of hope and defiance.” But it adds: “Behind the curtain, Japan had put forward at least one definite offer. Fearing the results of Russian participation in the war, Tokyo transmitted to Generalissimo Stalin the broad terms on which it professed willingness to settle all scores.”

—Assembling of the first atomic bomb continued at Tinian. It would likely be ready on August 1 and the first use would be dictated by the weather.  The second bomb—the plutonium device—was still back in the States. The target list, with Hiroshima as #1, remained in place, although it was being studied for the presence of POW camps holding Americans in the target cities.

—Secretary of War Stimson began work on the statement on the first use of the bomb that President Truman would record or release in a few days, claiming we merely hit a "military base," assuming the bomb worked.